Friday, May 30, 2008

Is My Family Italian Wedding Soup a Winner?

Before I graduated from UCF this past May I pre-supposed that without a full-time school schedule I would have A LOT of constructive energy idling in my hands, and I wanted to put that time to use on things I love to do. One evening I was at home with friends with a chocolate chip cookie Food Network Challenge came on television. I adore making chocolate chip cookies and have been cultivating my recipe since I was 11 years old so when I saw what looked like mildly atrocious cookies from the contestants on TV, I jumped off my couch and immediately began baking. It was an instant epiphany of, "I can do that!" That's when it dawned on me to start entering cooking and recipe contests for fun. I've entered two so far and just submitted my family' Italian Wedding Soup recipe to Cooking Light Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest.

Wish me Luck!

Meatless Italian Wedding Soup

What a Macaroon!

Last weekend Pete and I did one of our favorite things and browsed the local bookstore. While he was on the search for Wizard magazine to price his childhood comic book collection, I was elbow deep in Food & Wine, Bon Appetite, and well you get the idea. Being ever the gentleman Pete told me to pick a nice food magazine out and he' d buy it for me. I ended up walking out of there with Taste of Home's 5 Ingredient Recipe book.

Many of the cooking dishes are straight forward preparations so it's no surprise I found the baking section a bit more interesting. The first recipe I prepared are the chewy coconut macaroons on the very last page. The 5 ingredients for this simple cookie are non-fat sweetened condense milk, almond extract, flour, salt, and coconut flakes. To make it my own and closer to my favorite cookie flavors, I crushed up about 1/2 cup pine nuts and added them to batter for texture and flavor enhancement. Plus, I had them leftover from the pignolis and didn't want to see them go to waste!

Chewy Coconut Macaroons. Pete took this photo and did such a great job! I've got to figure out how to get him to photograph all my food which shouldn't be too hard since he eats it all anyway. o_O

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pizza & Pies to Cross Your Eyes

I am on a constant search for easy meals with undeniably great flavor but really, what modern meal maker isn't? In my particular case, I work days and my boyfriend Pete works nights. Some times I make meals he heats up when he gets in after midnight, but sometimes I like to throw something together nice and hot for him on the spot (he deserves it)! While I am on the lookout for new 'quick-n-easys', having a few go-to dishes you know like the back of your hand such as cheesy chorizo and rice with cilantro or my famous original Philly cheeses teaks, or the meal one featured in this post:
Boboli Pizza Creations

Boboli Pizza Creations started with my dad's own Mexican pizza. It's so simple it's astonishingly and delicious! First, preheat to 350. Take a schmear (that's a technical term) of cream cheese and spread it around. Go light or generous, but not too generous. Too much cheese makes a moist crust and that is a total bummer. Next, take about 2-3 tblsp. Hormel Chili No Beans (or with beans if you don't mind) and spread it on top of the cream cheese.

Mexican Pizza
My twist on the fam favorite is halving fresh jalapeno slices and tossing those around on the chili no beans before spreading any cheddar-jack cheese you got. In this picture, I only had mozzarella which works just fine too. The second real key to great pizza is sprinkling the cheese all the way to the edge. When the cheese melts, it binds all the toppings to the crust just like in the sausage and double cheese below:

Sausage & Double Cheese Pizza w/side of sausage & onions
Bake these beautiful pies at 350 for 25-35 minutes until you've got a nice crispy brown. There we have it! Two small Boboli pizzas will most definitely feed two young professionals late night, but wait-see that lil' bugger back there? What is in that small, orange cup fabu thrift store find are the leftovers from the sausages I fried up with extra virgin olive oil and onions for the pizza topping. Pete is like me, half-Irish and half-Italian and I know that even his sausage double cheese pizza as well as some of my Mexican pizza aren't going to fill him up, so why not make a side out of a pizza topping? This idea can really work with any veggie or protein pizza topping of your choice, hot or cold, and makes sure to fill up even the hungriest of eater.

Switching gears from 'quick-n-easys' to involved and intimate, I bring you artichoke pie!!! I ate my first artichoke pie, I'm sorry to be correct, Uncle Louie's Artichoke Pie when Mr. T (Pete's Dad) prepared it for one of weekly meals recently. I was dumbstruck when I devoured two slices instantly. Fluffy and light yet so rich in flavor, it's complexity was as moving as symphony. Shortly following that life changing event, my very last graduate class decided to end the semester with a pie party. "Let them have pie!" my professor often shouted, and we did. My classmates brought in lots of amazing sweet pies. That night as I tried my first buttermilk pie as well as strawberry rhubarb so it's not like education wasn't achieved that evening. Whiel all the sweet pies were t-a-s-t-y tasty, I dared to be different and brought the only savory pie; my first attempt at the glorious artichoke pie.

Artichoke Pie

In the words of the Borat, "Great success!" All my classmates really enjoyed it and most had never had or heard of artichoke pie. The only folly of this dish was an Islam classmate of my mine took a few bites before realizing that prosciutto is Italian ham and she doesn't eat pork. Doh!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Life is Super Lame Without Friends

Taking my eating and cooking addiction online was one of my best decisions of the year as I have found more people like me with amazing ideas and uber warm personalities. Thanks to many a blogger, I found my way to the Leftover Queen and then to the Foodie BlogRoll (psst, look to your right) and then onto This network is so exciting and I can't wait to see where it will take my cooking and more exciting, what it's going to do to my palette. ! GRAZIE !

Becky Osborne, an incredible friend of mine in the physical world, visited me this past weekend to celebrate her birthday. We met over metal music, if you can believe it! Both of our boyfriends were the guitar players in an independent metal band and we definitely did a lot of what we call 'hardcore hoedown' (I hope you all laugh at this as hard as I do):
She hijacked my kitchen last weekend!

Becky has been telling me cooking Asia food has got her goat; for her bday gift I gave her a big ole Foods and Recipes of Thailand cookbook. One of our fav past times was finding the best pad thai in all of Orlando before she left me for West Palm Beach, so I thought the gift appropriate.
Well, who knew that on her birthday celebration she would end up making me a chicken mushroom coconut milk soup and a shrimp pad thai!!

Even though I was the maid of honor at her 2006 wedding, I still wish I would have married her. :)
Becky is an amazing visual artist unafraid of taking on any new medium. Her eye and ability to create baffles me waaayyy beyond the kitchen and the meals we've shared together. Her 2006 wedding was totally DIY from start to finish. I made the wedding invitations, she sewed her veil, we both cooked along with others to feed all guests, her handmade decorations put Martha Stewart to shame, AND she made her own wedding cake and the groom's cake in her mother-in-law's kitchen.

2006 Becky's Wedding Cakes by Becky
2006 Adam's Grooms Cake by Becky

Guests at her wedding were so impression, she started getting orders. What you see is what Becky can do in an apartment kitchen!

2007 Wedding & Groom's Cakes for Friends Chuck and Traci
2008 Wedding Cake w/Gumpaste Orchids for Corrina & Tyler

2008 Groom's Cake for Tyler
She is most def an Ace of Cakes, and when she tasted the cookies stashed from the trio platter I made we both bounced around the idea of opening our own bakery in Orlando, FL specializing in custom cakes and confections!! This is just the very inception of this idea because, well I just got a Master's in a technical field so I think I should use that for a minute. But the idea of running my own bakery with a friend I love and respect is so tempting. Who knows what will happen but I do wonder if a custom cake bakery will rocket in Orlando? Anybody out there with some input on this adventure would be greatly appreciated. I love making new friends!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Appetizers for Mr. T

Hopefully you've seen part 1 of Mr. T's birthday gift package in the last post and you drooled sufficiently over the sweet delights of the trinity cookie platter because now I bring you the succulent, savory appetizers. Since Mr. T (Triolo, that is) is a master of the eggplant parmigina, capponata, rigatoni with sausage and peppers dishes he prepared for his friends and family to share, I opted to show my savory skills with my original portobello rockefellers, my mother's acorn squash dip, and artichoke bruschetta.

Sadly, I have no pictures of the artichoke bruschetta because I had to make it on the spot. I followed Roxanne Blesh's Artichoke Bruschetta recipe published in the May 6th issue of the Newsletter: Fast and Fresh Farmer's Market, but I exchanged the mayo for plain yogurt to keep it a bit healthier and to let the artichoke and onion take center flavor stage. Other than that one adjustment, this recipe is easy, light and super quick for such a great taste.

Here's the apps I do have pictures of!
This is the third time I've made my Portobello Rockefellers. Here they are whole and just out of the oven. I also waited for them to cool and quartered the caps to create the bite-size, well bite. :) What a crowd pleaser this one was! Another bit of prep info; I made these the day before the party and reheated them in the oven at 350 for about 10-12 minutes or until the cheese melts again.

Acorn Squash Dip: This is probably best served in the Autumn but the taste is light and decadent and the presentation is not only beautiful, it's self-contained!!! This dish was also prepared prior to the party but needs to refrigerate for 24 hours anyway to firm the up the dip as well as absorb more of the acorn squash flavor from the shell.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cookie Monster-no Master, wait...

What do you do post Masters media degree? BAKE of course!! My boyfriend's father throws himself a surprise birthday party every year and with the last name of Triolo you know he is very, very Italian; what can be said other than he cooks almost as divinely as my late great-grandmother Elviria Ferrante. My presents to a fellow foodie and Sicilian were cookies and appetizers. I thought about making some Italian dishes, but why compete with the best? I've always been a believer in doing what you know and playing to your strengths so all last week after work I was working away in my kitchen preparing buckeye balls, almond raspberry shortbread thumbprints, pignolis for a cookie platter as well as appetizers acorn squash dip, portobello rockefellers, and an artichoke bruschetta (apps to be posted later).

Cookie Platter

Pignolis: This is actually the first time I've ever made these and they came out absolutely perfect. I received rave reviews from family and friends. The secret to prefect pignolis, take the time to break up the almond paste into pebble pieces before starting. It's a labor of love but well, well worth it!

Almond Raspberry Shortbread Thumbprints: These are my second batch. I made a ton over Christmas for a work party and one co-worker ended the night eating 15 in all!

The last confection I created for Mr. Triolo are my mother's Buckeye Balls. These are basic peanut butter balls mixed with sugar and then dipped in baking chocolate. While I grew up with our version, most powdered sugar boxes have a similar recipe on the back of the box.

Look for an upcoming post of the appetizer delights tailor made for Mr. T and other cooking related posts such as, "Will a custom cake bakery do well in Orlando, FL?" Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You May Call Me 'Master'

I did it. On the morning of May 3rd 2008, I walked the academic plank and graduated with my Master of Arts in Interactive Media and Visual Language from the University of Central Florida. The ceremony was heads and shoulders above the ceremony for my bachelor's in 2004 due mostly to the keynote speaker choice. This year the speaker was an accomplished female business owner and FL senator, while in 2004 I was tortured by the utterly annoying Miss America whom also happened to be a UCF student - whom had yet to graduate. But I digress, my dad and stepmom attended along with the lovely Triolo family. The ultimate highlight of the two hour ceremony was my moment on the MegaTron!! UCF recently finished remodeling the arena and my moment of triumph and glory was HUGE, so thanks UCF. That $80 robe rental was now and only now, worth it.

The week after the ceremony, I headed to Naples to celebrate with the Joyce family. Their big, their Irish and if you mess with one of us you mess with of us. Check out my pics from the whole shabang:

Building the Dynamic Dimensions Brand

Tile sublimation is complicated process involving heat presses, inks, polymers and other such things that are too technical for me to explain all in blog post. In short, tile sublimation is a process that prints whatever images you want onto tiles permanently. This fun new tile application is what Dynamic Dimensions of Winter Park, FL specialize in.
For example, this tile piece to the left of a montage of Tramine Dion's art. Check out his art show next week at Built 4 Speed Tattoos in Downtown Orlando.

If you recall a few posts back, I designed their business card and they liked it so much they came back to me for their brochure. Everything I ever learned about designing marketing materials is about creating a look that is consistent and instantly recognizable plus distinguishable. This is the essence to it means to build a brand (visually speaking). Since design is about behavior, I thought the best plan was to take the business card design and transpose it to a brochure design. What is below is the trifold brochure outside in its first inception. The inside is still under heavy construction so I'll post that later in the game. There will be many more drafts before its complete but I like where its going.